Richard Fiorelli, one of my design professors at the Cleveland Institute of Art, talks a lot about “kinships in time.” This is his term for seeing possible connections between the seemingly unrelated. Fiorelli inspired us to think this way during every aspect of our lives. You can’t just turn it on in a meeting. To be effective, you need to flex this creative muscle daily.
Art is built on connections. So is innovation. To see connections, you need to commit to being open to them. John Nottingham says, “Innovation is not a thing we do on Thursday. You think about creativity, you live creativity. It’s not an event, it’s a process. Embrace it.”
Creativity is not the result of nature or nurture exclusively, nor is it fixed for life. There are lots of small things you can do to increase your creativity quotient, and to be the change you want to see in your organization.
Get out of the office
I’m a strong believer in attending conferences and expos. But any change of scenery can help you think more clearly. Take your laptop to a coffee shop or library. If your company has some outdoor space, invest in a picnic table or two. Time in nature can provide a valuable reset. The Japanese term “shinrin-yoku” means forest bathing, metaphorically cleansing yourself in a more natural environment than where we spend most of our time. Even a walk in a park will help.
Get out of your routines
The Wall Street Journal recently wrote about lawn care fanatics. This quote jumped out at me: “I sit eight to 10 hours a day at a computer … When I get home it’s nice to use a different part of my brain and see measurable, tangible results.”
Our brains didn’t evolve to focus narrowly the way many jobs require. Hobbies provide much-needed gear shifts. Take up a musical instrument. Build models. Try recipes from unfamiliar cuisines. What matters is that the activity is so engrossing that you don’t think about anything else (especially work), and challenging enough that progress is genuinely satisfying. That builds confidence.
As writer Ta-Nehisi Coates put it in an essay about learning French: “There is absolutely nothing in this world like the feeling of sucking at something and then improving at it. Everyone should do it every 10 years or so.”
Get out of your head
“Kinships in time” are everywhere, but you can’t go looking for them; they appear when you aren’t looking. This isn’t mysticism, it’s just how our brains work. You can improve your vision by immersing yourself in as much as you can. Visit museums. Change up your music playlists. Read fiction and biographies, in addition to business books. Buy season tickets at one of Cleveland’s many theaters. Create a new profile in your Netflix account and see what the algorithm suggests.
In my next column, I’ll write about how creative individuals can best work together toward common goals. ●
Bill Nottingham is vice president at Nottingham Spirk